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What is Software Defined Storage?  EMC ViPR announced at EMCWorld 2013

Here at EMC World 2013, one of the biggest themes is "software defined" storage. Much like the vague overuse of "cloud" as a marketing description, the term "software defined" is being abused by many. But after getting more details, we think EMC has got it right with the new ViPR storage architecture.

"Software Defined" Defined
In particular, just because some capability is written in software doesn't make it software defined. In my thinking, software defined networking (SDN) laid the truest foundation for the term. In SDN there is a clear separation of the "data plane", where the actual data flows and functionality are delivered, and the "control plane" where the configuration and management can be dictated. There is still highly optimized, specifically featured, and widely varying hardware handling the data flows, but control of the whole "system" can be programmed in remotely through API's. Once you've made the infrastructure programmable in this way, you can work on adding all sorts of operational intelligence and dynamic behaviors with layered solutions. The implication is that you layer on this intelligent management through remote "software" control.

To be clear, the data plane functionality could be delivered by software implemented solutions. We'd expect that software implemented infrastructure like virtual machine based storage "appliances" can more readily be written to be "software definable" (being written in software, we imagine that developers would have to be cruelly restricted to not enable programmable interfaces right from the start), which might lend to some of the confusion.  But not all software implemented technology is software definable/programmable.  

With only scant early information, it seemed as if ViPR might have been just another attempt at making InVista work out. While that attempt at virtualization was aimed at competing with IBM SVC, it presented a lot of challenge and conflict within EMC by essentially devaluing the primary EMC infrastructure portfolio. But with this more detailed announcement, it's clear that EMC has taken the time to develop a value-building SDDC offering, announced today as ViPR. While we await a far more in-depth look and hands-on validation of ViPR (it rolls out second half this year into GA), today's public announcement fits better into our interpretation of what "software defined storage" means and how it can add value to the future data center.

ViPR is intended to layer on top of the wide range of the whole EMC storage product portfolio and both 3rd party and commodity storage (assuming they have programmable API's). It has two identifiable components

  1. ViPR Controller that layers directly over underlying storage with unified management controls like cloudy elastic provisioning, self-service storage catalog, and embedded automation. The controller layer essentially pools storage assets and unifies management (goodbye array specific SRM!), while still exposing and leveraging the specific features of the storage arrays in the data plane.
  2. ViPR Data Services which will be able to "inject" certain capabilities into the data plane. 

Does the Data Services Layer simply become a new "place" to host enterprise storage features (software implemented storage capabilities) - in other words, reducing the underlying enterprise storage investment into zombie JBODs? This is definitely not EMC's intention this time around. ViPR is aimed to preserve storage hardware and software investments, and extend the usefulness of existing storage arrays and array specific features (like SRDF). Physical storage arrays are highly optimized for their respectively targeted workloads and QoS goals.

It seems EMC is going to focus ViPR Data Services on capabilities that are value-add across array types, have low friction to inject, and present low risk to performance and availability. As a first shot, they are going to roll out HDFS/object storage as a service over file or block (or object), and are listing similar live data type "access/translations" possible in the future. The bigger vision is to enable new kinds of data constructs for new kinds of application workloads (and this ties into Pivotal's vision).

Overall, ViPR is a service provider "play", with multi-tenancy and global distribution, but the point is to enable enterprises and service providers to offer storage services to their clients without big adoption hurdles. ViPR in turn offers its own API for integration into newer and larger services that can benefit or leverage storage pooling, especially SDDC kinds of solutions. We will also see EMC reconstruct some high value storage features (like RecoverPoint) on top of ViPR.

ViPR looks to be the solution that marries the EMC portfolio into a holistic solution family - a neat evolution that shows that EMC continues to innovate hard.  We'll need a much more detailed look at to really appreciate how well ViPR delivers technically, but it now appears this time EMC's take on storage virtualization should be revenue-enhancing.

  • Premiered: 05/06/13
  • Author: Mike Matchett
Topic(s): EMC software defined Storage


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